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ABR Series: Manny's fortunate monsters (audio)

By BY CAROLINA ASTRAIN - CASTRAIN@VICAD.COM
Feb. 18, 2013 at 5:02 p.m.
Updated Feb. 18, 2013 at 8:19 p.m.


For novelist Manuel Luis Martinez, all roads lead to Texas.

Although he's lived in the Midwest for more than 20 years, Martinez's writing remains anchored in his home state.

The San Antonio native will read from his collection of stories at the University of Houston-Victoria Alcorn Auditorium at noon Thursday.

After being named the Dobie Paisano Writing Fellow by the Texas Institute of Letters, Martinez decided to take a break from his professorship at Ohio State University to live with his wife while she finishes up an internship at a children's hospital in Chicago.

"We love it; I love it," Martinez said. "I don't work, so you know."

With his free time, the novelist said he's been working on a book he hopes ends on a lighter note than the rest of his body of work.

The working title, "Fortunate Monster," is based on a biological term by Charles Darwin.

"It's really just about adaptation," Martinez said. "I'm trying to be optimistic in this novel. I tend to write things with a certain amount of darkness."

The author's first book was published when he was 21 years old after he made a move to the Midwest to pursue a ripened interest in writing.

"Crossing" was published in 1998 and follows the story of Latin Americans crossing the border illegally in a train boxcar.

The novel's protagonist, a 16-year-old Mexican named Luis, starts his journey with a group of ruffians and longtime border jumpers.

Toward the end of the novel, all but two of the travelers are left alive alongside rotting corpses and urine.

Elements of the Catholic rite of confession, light and dark theology from Martinez's own Protestant background and theatrical dialogue follow the characters on their journey north.

"There's definitely a lot of binary stuff, evil and dark and light, that never goes away," he said.

The author's second and more popular book, "Drift," published in 2003, was recognized by the American Library Association as one of the 100 Best Books of the Year in 2004.

His sophomore publication followed the life of a young, troubled man in search of his estranged mother in Los Angeles.

"I think I struck a chord in that book," Martinez said. "I still get letters and emails from young people about it. I think they relate that the protagonist is in a really chaotic, confusing, lonely place."

In "Fortunate Monster," Martinez said he hopes to incorporate parts of his own mother's life after the recent passing of her husband.

"Watching my mother go through that whole grieving process," Martinez said. "She was telling everybody that her life was over."

But after giving online dating a try, Martinez's mother started online dating and met a bodybuilding and motorcycle enthusiast.

"Now my mom's in the best shape of her life," Martinez said. "That got me to thinking about wanting to write about resilience."

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